U.S. President Donald Trump defended on Wednesday his remarks in an earlier interview that he wanted to downplay the coronavirus threat to the U.S. public, arguing that he is a cheerleader for the country and did not want to create panic.
“I wanted to always play it down, I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump told Bob Woodward, author and associate editor of The Washington Post, in an interview on March 19, according to revelations in Woodward’s new book “Rage.”
Facing criticisms following reported revelations in the book, which is due for publication this month, Trump insisted he was right to keep his concerns about the pandemic private.
“We don’t want to instill panic, we don’t want to jump up and down and start shouting that we have a problem that is a tremendous problem, scare everybody,” Trump told reporters at the White House, “we had to show calm.”
“The fact is I’m a cheerleader for this country, I love our country,” Trump said. “And I don’t want people to be frightened, I don’t want to create panic, as you say. Certainly, I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy.”
Trump said he downplayed the threat of the virus also because he didn’t “want pricing to go up to a level that becomes almost unaffordable.”
The president dismissed the reports of his own remarks as “another political hit job.”
According to the revelations, Trump told Woodward in an interview on Feb. 7, when the United States reported just a few cases of COVID-19, that the virus was more dangerous than the flu.
“This is deadly stuff,” Trump said.
The president said that the virus was airborne and more deadly “than even your strenuous flus.”
“It goes through air, Bob, that’s always tougher than the touch,” Trump said, “the air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed.”
But in public during the same period, Trump said there were at the time many more flu deaths in the United States, claiming that the virus would disappear “like a miracle.”
On Feb. 26, he said that COVID-19 cases in the country would fall to “close to zero.” On Feb. 29, he told Americans that “everything is under control.”
Seizing on the book’s revelations, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden slammed Trump in his tour to key swing state Michigan on Wednesday, saying the president “knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed for months.”
“He knew and purposely played it down,” said the former vice president, “worse, he lied to the American people.”
“He’s failed our economy and our country,” Biden said.
Woodward’s book reportedly also revealed National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien warned Trump on Jan. 28 that the coronavirus “will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency.” Trump told Woodward in May that he didn’t remember being told that.
The United States ranks the first in the world with over 6.35 million infections and over 190,700 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The upcoming book “Rage” is based on 18 interviews that Trump gave Woodward between December and July, as well as background conversations with officials and other sources, said a Washington Post report. The newspaper and CNN were given advance copies of the book and published details on Wednesday.
Woodward is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.